Jerry Marino
Susan Connell
Matt McNerney


"Unless we double our resources, this community is in danger of fires wreaking devastation of biblical proportions," states the head of your regional fire protection agency. Is this accurate? Or is she just lobbying for funds for the upcoming bond issue?

With the recent fires in California, we now understand that wildfires are a serious danger not only to forest and wildland areas but also to those residential and commercial areas perched near canyons and brushland. Recent reports indicate that the extensive fire and loss of property and life was predictable if serious fire broke out in those areas. But communicating the grave consequences of the events, in order to prepare the community to provide preventive resources is difficult without dynamic and effective tools.

We are developing a simulation, using StarLogo (a free agent modeling program from the MIT Media Lab) to show how wildfires spread and affect different types of property based on varying construction, environmental and topographical conditions. The simulation will start with an overview of a specific neighborhood with its buildings, landscaping and terrain. By varying conditions such as building roofing materials, nearby vegetation, temperature, humidity, wind, time of day, etc., we intend to show how a wildfire is likely to spread and what types of building materials, landscaping and terrain will be most resistant to that spread. The simulation can be used to demonstrate fire-spread for a specific preset area and then by changing the building types, landscaping and basic terrain, can be adapted for other areas.

Instructional Objective

We believe this will be a valuable communication tool for fire personnel as well as community leaders. It will allow them to communicate the fire danger and potential devastation that might occur during a spreading wildfire and help them demonstrate to the public what they can do to mitigate damage in the future. This need for communication was demonstrated just recently in the San Diego, California area where fires burned hundreds of thousands of acres of wildland, destroyed almost 3,000 homes were destroyed and resulted in the deaths of at least 16 people. The startling fact is that, in a report by the fire community the previous year, this devastation was forecast if a serious fire like this were to break out. Would the community have been more prepared if the fire professionals and community leaders had not only communicated this danger to but also demonstrated it in a model as we propose to create? We believe that by creating such a model through use of an inexpensive and easy to operate tool such as StarLogo, we can help communities and individuals assess future danger and communicate what can be done to avoid or minimize similar devastation.


Citizens and community groups interested in understanding patterns of fire spread based on conditions in their community and ways to protect their property. These individuals will primarily be suburban homeowners of middle and upper income. Other parties might include building community leaders, contractors, urban planners, architects and others with a particular interest in protecting lives and property in the event of a wildfire.

Context of Use

We envision this model being used in several possible ways:

  • As a standalone program that could be distributed with additional support, reference and background material on a CD.
  • As a component on a fire safety web site that would contain related material.
  • As part of an interactive workshop facilitated by a fire or public safety official who would run the model based on input and feedback from the audience/participants.
  • As a pre-set visual iintended to be projected onto a larger screen as a communication and demonstration tool for a presentation about fire dangers.

The simulation can be used on the Internet or any recent model PC or Macintosh computer by individuals with basic computer knowledge. Because it is all about variables, it can be used once or many times for a few minutes or over an extended period as long as the user remains interested.

However the material is used, questions and associated discussion topics will be included to help learners recognize patterns forming, enable deeper understanding of how factors and forces affect wildfire spread and likelihood of damage. A presenter's guide could also allow facilitators to practice communication techniques to explain effects and results to civilians and community leaders.


The simulation interface will show a predetermined neighborhood bordering on a wildland area where the terrain is fixed but the building and vegetation conditions can be varied. The variables may include building construction type (with particular ffocus on roofing material), the amount of fuel covering the landscape (trees, underbrush, fallen brush, vegetation, etc.), dryness factor (driven by the yearly rainfall), humidity, wind speed (and possibly direction), temperature, barriers, and fire intensity. We will adjust the number of variables to communicate effectively while attempting to avoid confusion on the part of the user by overwhelming them with too many variables.

Since conditions change over time and fire danger levels rise or fall with those conditions, users will set up the simulation and fix the variables. Taking note of the settings they will initiate the simulation and observe results. After the simulation the key observations to note may include: fire direction, rate of speed, direction of fire-spread, percentage of total area burned, elapsed time between fire initiation and spread through the neighborhood and, most importantly, what areas experienced the least damage from the fire. By running the simulation several times with the same settings and then by varying the settings, users can establish an understanding of the fire's behavior and what critical conditions are associated with the most destruction. How these findings are addressed will depend on the manner in which the simulation is presented.

Object of the Game

Whether presented by a facilitator or manipulated by an individual, the objective of this modeling exercise will be to help members of a community better understand the dangers of wildfires, environmental conditions that may require special caution and factors that may be within their power to control and minimize damage. Learners will be able to demonstrate this understanding by summarizing at least three key observations about the modeling excercise.

Design Details

This is the heart of the document. It will serve as a blueprint for those who actually develop the game. The more specific you can be here, the less backtracking and expensive confusion there will be later.

Universal Elements

Describe and provide illustrations of the overall look and feel of the game. What style of graphics and sounds will be used? Cartoonish? Photorealistic? Wacky? Business-like? Colorful? Muted?

Specific Elements

The specifics from this point on will vary depending on the format of game that you're using.

For adventure games, provide:

  • an overall map of the simulated world, showing its boundaries and major features
  • a description of the role the learner is playing while moving through the world
  • a description of the overall game goal the learner is trying to achieve
  • a flowchart showing all possible rooms and allowable moves
  • a decription of the obstacles that will challenge the learner
  • a list of all prizes or artifacts and their locations
  • profiles of all non-player characters
  • a description of the scoring system, if any
  • a sequence of sample screens showing how one moves and acts on the game

For branching stories, provide:

  • a flowchart of all major branches in the game
  • a description of the events within each of the major branches including the entry decision that starts the branch
  • sample screens showing a sequence of the story
  • a character dictionary describing the appearance, background, motivation, and other characteristics of everyone who appears in the story

For quiz games, provide:

  • a description of the categorization scheme used for questions
  • sample questions within each category showing questions at each level of difficulty
  • sample screens showing the sequence of question asking, learner input, and feedback
  • sample screens showing introductory material, high score pages, etc.
  • a description of the scoring system to be used

For arcade games, provide:

  • a description of the categorization scheme used for sprites moving on the screen
  • sample images within each category showing sprites at each level of difficulty
  • sample screens showing the sequence of animation, learner input, and consequences
  • sample screens showing introductory material, high score pages, etc.

For simulations, provide:

  • a description of all user-manipulable variables in the game
  • a description of all output variables displayed
  • a description of the initial or default state of all variables
  • sample screens showing a sequence of situation, learner input, and result
  • sample screens showing introductory material, high score pages, etc.
  • a description of the mathematical and logical relationships that link the input variables and output variables (i.e., the underlying model of the simulation).

 Technical Elements

Describe the:

  • specific software needed to author the game
  • platform(s) the game would be developed for
  • screen size and resolution of the game
  • bit depth and dimensions of graphics and sounds
  • file formats of graphics and sounds
  • method to accommodate multiple platforms (if that's being done)
  • naming convention used to name all files
  • data structures for any files used to save the game state

Competing Products

Simulation software:
iThink and Stella; Model-It

Fire simulation software: I don't think this is a StarLogo simulation. It's simple one and easy to use. Very few variables. firewise -- Not a competing product but lots of interactive stuff here. BehavePlus2 (this is quite a package, funded by the USDA and USFS and involved many people. We could not possible emulate this without major funding!!! And lots of time.)

Motivational Issues

Describe how the game engages the learner. How does it make use of curiosity, challenge, control, fantasy, competition, cooperation, etc.? (No one game will do all of these things, so focus on the particular strengths of this particular game.) Make specific reference to the theoretical readings associated with this course.

Design Process

Describe the process you went through in putting the game together. What were your first thoughts? How did you enhance your ideas? What ideas did you consider and reject (and why?). How did you gather background information? What did you do to see if there are similar games out there? What did you do to get feedback on the idea? How did you flesh out the game to the point of having a playable prototype? How did you gather feedback from that? What lessons did you learn from this that you'll carry to your next game design project?


What did you look at to inform your design of the game?

Books & Journals

  • Book1 (Use APA format, except for the negative indent of the first line)
  • Book2
  • etc.


Subject Matter Experts

  • Tim McNerney

Return to the Final Project Table of Contents.

Last updated Thursday, December 8, 2005 5:20 PM